Roberta Robertson’s writing and photography have been featured in The Sacramento Bee and The East Bay Art Book. Most recently she finished the rough draft of her fictionalized memoir. Although a consistent writer and strong storyteller who has contributed regularly to The Flash Lit Collective and Alameda Shorts for several years and the occasional host of Monday Memoir meetings, Roberta prefers to be outside, exploring the world from the saddle of her bike and taking a true abundance of photographs of anything that catches her eye. She also enjoys sailing, gardening, and writing short stories–mostly with a sci-fi or paranormal twist.
June 2021 Flash Lit Collective prompt #1:
Flying the Coop
Mac walked into the Redford Bar and shook the fog off his overcoat. After adjusting to the dim light, he spotted his old college roommate, Ricky, in a booth, and made his way over. It’d been five years since they graduated, and he was looking forward to catching up.
The drinks had just arrived when Mac saw her, an oddly dressed woman at the shadowy end of the bar, perched on a red stool. She wore a jacket made of black feathers, and had placed more in her hair, giving her the appearance of a large bird.
“Hey Ricky,” Mac whispered, “do you see that woman?”
“Her? That’s the Bird Woman of the Alcazar.”
“What?” Mac replied, with an arched eyebrow.
“Well, we’re in San Francisco, and then there is her coat, plus the Alcazar Theatre is across the street.”
“Okay, very punny.”
“I’m serous Mac, that’s what she’s called. She’s here every night, on that same stool, all alone.”
“Maybe she just needs a friend,” Mac said as he stood and walked over to the woman.
“Hi,” Mac said, “so you’re the famous bird lady.”
“Is that what they call me?”
Mac’s face flushed.
“I’m not a bird woman,” she declared, “I’m the daughter of Carol Doda!”
“That can’t be possible, you don’t look a day over 30.”
“It’s rude to comment on a woman’s age. Perhaps I am a time traveler, or immortal,” she leaned closer to Mac, and with whiskey laced breath whispered, “or perhaps I’m a ghost.”
“A ghost! I didn’t know ghosts smelled like whiskey.” Mac was surprised to find himself flirting. “So, Miss Doda, may I buy you a drink?”
“I thought you would never ask,” she batted her feather adorned eyelashes at him, and then turned to the bartender, “you know what I like Bill.”
“Of course, that will be $10.” The bartender held out his hand as Mac fished a ten out of his wallet, then threw in two ones for good measure.
At that moment the doors to the bar flew open and three women, also decked out in feathered outfits, burst into the room. The bird lady’s face lit up and she flew off her stool to join her flock. As the group turned to leave the bar, she called over her shoulder, “Bill, add that to my total, would ya’?”
“Of course, Donna.”
Mac turned around to see the bartender take a piece of chalk to the “Leave-a-Drink” board behind the bar. There was a long list of names, but at the top was Donna, followed by a couple dozen hash marks.
“Don’t worry Mac, she does that to everyone,” Ricky said, “heck I think at least two of those are from me.”
“But I thought you said she was crazy?”
“Nah, she’s probably just going to some costume party.”
“I can’t believe you helped her trick me like that!”
“What can I say, I think she’s cute.”
“Fine,” Mac rolled his eyes, “but you’re getting the next round.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #2:
Well I’ve totally messed this up. I thought as I stared out airplane window at the expanse of ocean stretching from horizon to horizon, 30,000 feet below me. The problem was I had never seen the ocean before. I grew up in a tiny land locked town in Nebraska. It was the same town my mom had grown up in, and my mom’s mom, and, well, you get the point. My family had been there forever, since the days of prairie schooners skimming across the amber waves of grain. When I was a child, I used to lay out in the middle of the fields on the farm in the late afternoon listening to the wind blow through the wheat, and pretend it was the ocean pounding against the sand.
When I was five my aunt Laura got married. She went to Hawaii for her honeymoon and came back with stories of sea turtles skirting the ocean cliffs and dolphins playing in waves illuminated by magical orange sunsets. She also brought me a shell that when I held it up to my ear I could hear the crashing of the waves on the sand. From that moment forward the only thing I wanted in my entire life was to dip my feet in the ocean.
So traveling to Hawaii is expensive. Sure, there are other, cheaper beaches to visit. I certainly had the opportunity to go in with my college roommates on a spring break trip to Cancun, or take a road trip to the coast, East or West, but it was Hawaii I was daydreaming about since I was five, and I just couldn’t imagine going to any other beach first.
It was the money my Aunt Laura gave me for my college graduation that pushed my budget from dream-land to actually going. I purchased one round trip ticket to Kauai, booked the cheapest hotel I could find, and instead of starting my job hunt I was counting down the days to my very first trip to the beach. Which was why I nearly freaked out when I looked down from the airplane and saw the ocean below. The perfect picture I had in my head of seeing the ocean for the first time, and sprinting across the perfect white powder sand into the azure ocean sunset, was being utterly ruined because I failed to realize I would have to fly over the ocean, in order to see the ocean from an island in the MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN!
I slid my window shade shut and decided to pretend it didn’t happen.
The plane landed at 3:05 PM, right on time. I collected my luggage, found the shuttle for my hotel, and was on my way. By 5:30 PM I had dropped my luggage in my room and made my way to the beach. Just as the sun was setting, I dipped my toes in the amber waves of the ocean for the first time.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #3:
Today is the Day
I was in the kitchen making dinner when it started. The sky grew dark, like something large had blocked out the sun. Next there was a loud roaring sound, followed by an explosion, and then the earth shook. Now call me paranoid, but I was totally prepared for this. I had a go-bag upstairs in my bedroom closet and I always keep my gas tank halfway full in case I need to flee. Well that day had come, it looked like the world might actually be ending, the only problem was I had broken both my legs a month before. I couldn’t get upstairs to grab my go-bag, much less drive my car.
I turned on the radio, but the only station that was coming in was screaming fire and brimstone, then the power went out. With a heavy sigh I wheeled myself through the books, and broken glasses, and other knick-knacks that had tumbled to the floor. Once I reached the front window I peered out. Yup, it was the end of the world all right. The sky glowed orange and I counted at least five plumes of black smoke slowly darkening the horizon. Across the street my neighbors were running frantically to their car. This was my chance, I threw open the front door, but just as I called out to them, something fell from the sky and landed on their house. What had once been a two-bedroom, one-bathroom ranch with a white picket fence, was now a smoking hole in the ground.
This wasn’t good.
I rolled my wheelchair back through the debris field that was my living room and stopped at the base of my stairs. As I sat there trying to decide if I should try and crawl my way up the stairs for my go-bag, my back door flew open with a concussive blast. Or at least that was what it sounded like, but it turned out it was actually my boyfriend, who had a bad habit of not only slamming doors shut, but slamming them open as well.
“Oh thank goodness you are okay!” he exclaimed as he came flying into the living room.
“Yeah, I’m fine John, but I can’t get upstairs to get the go-bag, and I certainly can’t drive the car.”
“That’s why I ran straight here, I knew you would need rescuing.” he said as he bent down to hug me.
“Yeah, that and you don’t have your own car to escape in,” I replied as I pushed him away, “now stop this nonsense, go upstairs and get my go-bag, and let’s get out of here already.”
With the go-bag in hand John scooped me out of my chair and whisked me off to the car. Once we were safely buckled in, John put the key in the ignition, and turned it. Nothing happened, the battery was dead.
“I guess that’s what happens when you don’t drive for a month.” I said with a shrug.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #4:
Photographer: Shannon Marsden If you like this shot, then consider donating to the photographer: Venmo @Shannon-Marsden-1
The fish just weren’t biting. John had been out for three days, and he hadn’t even caught enough to cover the cost of the fuel to come out here, but there was nothing he could do, a storm was coming in, it was time to head home.
As it turned out, John cut it a bit close. As he chugged across the angry Bay in his rusty white boat he just caught sight of the Tomales Bay Inlet before the low storm clouds swooped in and swallowed it up. For the next two hours he battled through the grey green sea as it bashed into his hull and rolled over his deck, soaking him to the core. The sky grew dark, but still the boat plowed forward through the waves. John wasn’t sure if night was falling or the storm was getting worse.
John was beginning to think the boat might break up in the waves, and he was wondering if he would make it, when suddenly the water grew still and calm. The wind was still howling, and the rain was still pouring, but he was in the Tomales Bay, he was safe.
John was soaked through, covered in salt, and smelled of fish. What he really wanted to do was go home to his wife Laura and his daughter Lucy, but the storm was still raging, and he couldn’t leave the boat for fear something would happen. The boat was his livelihood, it was how he supported his little family. If it broke its moorings and was set adrift in the storm, who knew what would happen. So he settled in for an uncomfortable night.
The next morning John was awoken by a knocking on the hull. He opened his eyes to the blinding sunlight streaming in through the port hole. It took him a moment to remember where he was, but the sound of laughter brought him back to reality. It sounded like a little girl.
“Lucy?” he called.
A small face appeared in the companionway. “Hi mister” she chirped.
“Hello,” John replied, he was sad to see it wasn’t Lucy after all.
“Watchu doin’ here?” the little girl asked.
“This is my boat, what are you doing here? Little girls shouldn’t be playing alone around the marina, it might be dangerous.”
Just then a man’s voice called from outside, “Get away from there Olivia, it’s dangerous.”
“But dad,” the little girl yelled, turning away from the cabin, “I’m talking to the man.”
“What man?” Olivia’s father answered.
“The man who owns the boat.”
Olivia’s father climbed up on the deck, scooped up his daughter, and peered down into the murky darkness below. “Honey, there is no owner of this boat, it’s been wrecked on this shore for 100 years.”
Olivia turned and looked back into the cabin, sure enough it was empty, with a sigh she wrapped her arms around her fathers’ neck and together they clambered over the splintering wood and off derelict old fishing boat.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #5:
Photographer: Jesus Manuel De Haro
Follow him on Instagram: @grizzlydeharo
Tip/donate: Venmo @jesusdeharo
My partner steadied me as I slipped down the trail that was more like a creek bed then a dirt path, struggling to keep my feet under me as the rain pelted my head and ran in cold rivulets down the back of my shirt. This was the problem with hiking in January I thought as I ran my hands over the verdant green grass that lined the side of the trail. Then again it was also what was great about hiking in January. We were the only car parked at the trail head, we were the only people crazy enough to be sloshing down this trail, we had this whole corner of the wild world all to ourselves.
We ducked under some trees that had grown low over the path and the trail began to level off. Around the next corner I could finally hear it, the crashing of waves, we were getting close. Then suddenly the tree branches parted, and a bluff covered in tiny white flowers rose before us. Carefully we made our way up the steep path, crouching down to keep our center of balance low so we wouldn’t slide back down in the slick mud.
Finally, we managed to reach the crest of the bluff without falling down on our asses. We stood for a moment, savoring the view below us, the large expanse of the Pacific, blue, green, grey, a stormy ocean crashing on the cliffs below. I thought for sure this would have been the place, but there was only water, and waves, and the sandy cliffs, so we kept walking, following the trail around the edge of the bluff.
We walked for another fifteen minutes, until the trail forked; the right hand side weaved across the bluff and back into a thicket of oaks that were pushed up against the base of the foothills, and the left hand path plunged over the edge of the cliff. Carefully we shuffled towards the precipice and peered over. The trail meandered down the side of the cliff, a river of water rushing toward the beach below. This was it alright, exactly as the guidebook described it, well, a bit wetter than the guidebook described it. I was sure we could make it down, though there was just one problem. There was no beach down there, no boulders shaped like bowling balls in perfect rows across the sand, just begging to be photographed. There was just the angry ocean. I had failed to consider the tide.
I took out my phone, but I had no signal of course. There was no way to know when the tide would start going out again. With a sigh I let my backpack slide off my shoulders. Then I bent over, pulled out my picnic blanket, and spread it across the wet grass. We sunk down on the blanket, popped open a couple of beers, said a cheers to our adventure, and settled into wait for the bowling ball beach to be revealed again.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #6:
The safest time was the middle of the night. There was rarely anyone around during those darkest hours, and if, per chance, she were to happen upon someone lurking in the blackness, she could always slink amongst the shadows that played with the moonlight dancing across the lake and disappear before she was noticed. In the winter, when the water of the lake was sluggish like molasses as it lapped on the snow blanket shores, before the cold penetrated deep enough to freeze it solid, she lingered in her whitewashed world. And sometimes, when she was really lucky, on a summer afternoon in the middle of the week she could steal a few hours alone on the sun drenched shores of her lake, just her, and the birds, and the wind whispering in the trees. But to perform her duties, she always waited until night.
It was true, she didn’t have to do what she did. She heard the murmurs, from deep underground, and high in the sky, they whispered to her, telling her how it was elsewhere. Rumors of places that had given up, tales of places where others were overwhelmed, where others just gave up, where the people crowded like a swarm of gnats in the sultry summer breeze, buzzing about the shores and splashing in the water. Where the trash blew across the sand instead of leaves, and gasoline left an unnatural rainbow sheen on the water’s surface. No, she couldn’t let her lake get like that. So every night, when the people had all gone, she skipped along the shore, gathering up what they left behind and erasing their footprints in her sand, until once again her lake shone brightly, hanging like a jewel sparkling in it’s cradle of pines while the circle of mountains nodded their approval.
She didn’t blame the people, though, they loved her lake just as much as she did. That’s why they flocked to it, splashing in the cool blue waters to break the heat of summer, and walking along the snow white shores in winter, pausing to breath frosty clouds into the air while admiring the ring of white peaks that surrounded it. How short their lives were compared to hers, how fleeting each of their moments were, how much they must cherish them. Even a second wasted in the pursuit of anything other than enjoyment, well, she could almost understand why they wouldn’t want to spend any of those precious few moments cleaning up after themselves. They couldn’t see the long-term damage they were doing; they couldn’t see how they were shortening the time for enjoyment for those that were destined to follow them. So in the middle of the night, every night, she emerged from the depths of her lake, and she did what she could to erase the scars that were left on the land, even as the water deep in the ground, and the rain that fell from the sky, laughed at the inevitable pointlessness of her endeavors.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #7:
Father Figure, Mother Land
He had come to this house as a young man. The house was a faded grey back then, unassuming in a sea of dead grass, but what caught his eye was the red “help wanted” sign in the front window. He’d been the caretaker ever since, responsible for ten apartments in the house, and another six in the place next door. Changing locks, fixing plumbing, cleaning from top to bottom when a tenant moved out, you name it, he did it all.
The place changed over the years, from drab grey to avocado green, to faded avocado green, and most recently bright white with an abstract of black swirls. It was an interesting paint job, but the new owners were insistent on putting their own mark on the place. Still, his tasks remained the same, he showed up every day, fixed what needed to be fixed, and took pleasure in the simplicity of the life he had created. Everything was the way it should be, that was until Mary moved in.
She was petite, with puppy dog brown eyes and a cascade of brown hair to match. The first time he saw her she was doing summersaults across the patchy grass of the backyard. It wasn’t unusual for a young child to perform acrobatics while at play, but he could tell she wasn’t just playing, she was practicing. He stood for a moment in the shadows of the basement door and watched her as she sprung up from another tumble, but he was not well hidden enough because as she regained her feet she caught sight of him, and sprinted across the lawn.
“Hi mister,” she chirped, “can you please tell me if I’m rolling in a straight line?”
He grunted at her and was just about to turn and descend the basement steps when she spoke again.
“Please, I have my first gymnastics meet tomorrow and I must be perfect.”
As he watched her summersault again, he had to admit she had talent, and from what he knew about her family, well, he vowed right there and then, he would help her any way he could.
Mary had been good enough to be in the Olympics since she was ten, but of course there was an age limit, and when she finally turned 16, she easily made the team. Not surprisingly she swept all her events, and the media clamored to publish her story. Naturally she wanted to give credit to her teacher, the kindly caretaker of her apartment building, who taught her so much. She couldn’t have known what would happen, that they were still looking for him, an old man, that had once been a young boy, the star of the Russian gymnastics team, until he escaped Russia so long ago. No, she couldn’t have known, and thankfully she never would know that in the end, it wasn’t a heart attack that had killed him, because the truth would’ve been more than her own heart could endure.
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #8:
R’s and I’s
Aunt Lorrie said I could be a pirate now, which was pretty cool, I guess. I pictured myself sailing the high seas on an enormous wooden boat, a parrot perched on my shoulder, a giant black hat on my head, and of course the patch…
“Annabelle, stop touching that!” Aunt Lorrie scolded.
I quickly pulled my hand away from my face. The phone rang and Aunt Lorrie went in the other room to answer it. It was my mom; boy was she going to be mad. Not because of the accident, but because of the other thing Aunt Lorrie told me.
I lost my first tooth when I was six years and one month old exactly. My mom told me to put it under my pillow and the Tooth Fairy would come in the middle of the night, sneak into my room, and if it was a really good tooth, that had been brushed properly twice a day and hadn’t been used to eat too many sweets, then the Tooth Fairy would leave me money for it. I couldn’t sleep in my own room after that, until my mom wrote a special letter to the Tooth Fairy, and sent it off with the Easter Bunny, to let her know we would mail my teeth instead to the super-secret address she gave my parents, because I was so scared of the Tooth Fairy coming in my room. But I was just a little baby then, with silly little baby fears. Now I’m all grown up. I just turned eight last week!
So, since I’m practically an adult now, I’m not afraid of the Tooth Fairy anymore. Which is why when Aunt Lorrie told me that there was also an Eye Fairy, who would take the eye I lost when I got too close to the fireworks Uncle Tom was setting off for the 4th of July tonight, I wasn’t at all scared. I didn’t exactly know what the Eye Fairy needed all these extra eyes for. I mean the Tooth Fairy made sense, she would take all those teeth and fashion them into dentures, like the ones my grandma uses. But people don’t get new eyes when they get too old to see right. What I think is the Eye Fairy was born with only one eye, and so one day, when some kid lost his eye, the Eye Fairy found it and was super happy to finally have two eyes. But then he became addicted and now his body was just covered in eyeballs. He could probably see really well though.
I was sitting on the couch, thinking about the Eye Fairy and tugging on the itchy black patch the doctor had taped over the hole in my head where my eye had been, when my mom appeared in Aunt Lorrie’s living room.
“Annabelle” she gasped as her hands flew up to her mouth.
“It’s okay Mom, Aunt Lorrie told me about the Eye Fairy, but don’t be mad because now that I’m eight I’m not afraid of fairies anymore.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #9
The first time Liza saw the woman was on the day her mother died. Liza had been playing under the willow tree in the front field when a lady with auburn hair that flowed down her back and danced in the wind wandered up the driveway from the dirt road that ran in front of the farm.
Liza sprung to her feet and ran to her house, making sure to stay in the shadows of the orange groves so the woman wouldn’t see her. She burst through the front door and raced up the stairs yelling “Mom!”, but when she entered the cool dark cave of her mother’s bedroom the look in her mother’s eyes caused Liza’s voice to catch in her throat.
“What is it honey?” her mother’s voice barely broke the silence of the room.
“What’s wrong mom?” Liza whispered.
“Nothing, it’s just a headache, don’t worry. Now, what did you need to tell me?”
“There’s a strange lady coming up the drive,” Liza replied as she walked to the curtain to peek outside, but then she thought better of letting any light in the room.
“Okay honey, please have the lady wait on the porch, let her know I will be down in a little while.”
Liza kissed her mother on her very warm cheek, and then went to sit at the kitchen table and wait for the woman.
And she waited.
And she waited.
But the woman never came to the door, and her mother never came downstairs.
The next time Liza saw the woman was at her mother’s funeral. Liza stood at the side of the grave in an itchy black dress. The grass was damp after a week of rain, but the sun had just come out, its rays casting brilliant white spotlights through the trees. One of the rays shone on a figure hovering at the edge of the graveyard, her auburn hair dancing like fire in the sunbeam. But just as quickly she appeared, she was gone, vanished in the teardrops that blurred Liza’s vision.
The third time she was the woman, Liza was a woman herself, all grown up with a child of her own. Her husband had just gotten a job on the other side of the state, and it just so happened the drive to the new house would take them past the little farm she had lived on as a young girl. Liza was excited about showing her daughter where she had run wild through the fields and orange groves of her childhood.
Liza almost didn’t recognize the place at first. The front field was overgrown with weeds so high she almost couldn’t see the house from the road. She didn’t know what had happened to it after her mother died, but it was obviously long abandoned. They parked the car at the edge of the old dirt road, and as Liza’s daughter ran across the overgrown field toward the weeping willow, Liza strolled up the driveway, watching the shadow of her hair on the driveway, dancing in the breeze.
She turned and waited for her husband to catch up, and when he did she grabbed his hand and said “honey, I’d like to visit my mother’s grave.”
June 2021 | Flash Lit Collective | Prompt #10
All was darkness, thick and black. She pulled herself along the soft ground, her eyes straining against the void. But then, yes, just there, a pinpoint of light. She moved towards it, she was beckoned, and as she did she could see it dancing and bobbing, illuminating the thorns and the thickets. Still closer she crept, until in the light she saw it, velvet red, a flower, a rose, a bramble, a bush! The color called to her, so vibrant, so alive, and she reached out her hand, toward the light, toward the rose, but ouch!
Quickly she withdrew her hand and examined it in the prick of light. Her palm, pale in the moon glow, except where her blood pooled crimson red like the rose. It oozed into the cusp of her hand, a dam once solid, now broken, rivers of red, reclaiming their old dried beds, creeping along the folds, the valleys, the creases and crevasses of her palm. She drew her hand up to her face and pressed it hard against her mouth, the metallic taste flooding her senses.
She rolled onto her back and stared into the darkness. She let it envelop her until there was no distinction between the world outside herself, and the world inside herself. Until she was the blackness, and the silence, and the flavor of metal. And then it was over, there was a whisper of movement, and a sliver of light, and she was just herself again.
The light continued to creep across the darkness, a silver crack in the world, growing larger and larger, threatening to envelope all, until suddenly there it was, the mother moon, with its soft round face, smiling down at her. She started to smile back, but her smile was smothered by a sudden revelation, because there, creeping across that perfectly craggy moon face was a single tear. But how can that be? There is no water on the moon! And then she saw it, illuminated by that silver glow, the roses, there were more now. The moon was taunting her with roses!
She gasped at their beauty, and slowly reached a hand towards them, she knew if she could just touch them, if she could just feel their exquisite petals, their perfect pastoral leaves. But still, just beyond the flowers, the moon continued to smile, that sad smile, and she knew what the moon was waiting for. She knew what the moon wanted. But she also knew better than to smile back at the moon.
She withdrew her hand, pressing it between her back and the soft ground beneath her, and she squeezed her eyes shut. She could create her own darkness, where she could hide and wait for the moon to disappear, where she could wait for the sun to rise again.
Rose’s mother knew it was too late, she had again failed to connect with her daughter. She reached a hand out to caress her face, but then she thought better. She remembered what happened last time. Instead, she raised her hand to her own face, wiped away the tear that betrayed her, and retreated from the dark room to the too bright hall, and the doctor she knew would be waiting to console her.